Get Facts, Get Free: The Emancipator

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S1: This is a word, a podcast from Slate, I’m your host, Jason Johnson American journalists have done an uneven job and that’s putting it nicely and covering the persistence of racism. But now the Emancipator, a new media operation, won’t just explain racism. It’s actually going to fight it.

S2: In the more recent couple of years, I felt like I’m going to have a perspective. I’m going to take a side on this in some way, take a side for humanity. And if I see that someone’s not on the side of humanity, I’m going to say something.

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S1: The Emancipator and the future of anti-racist journalism coming up on a word with me. Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. Welcome to a World, a podcast about race and politics and everything else. I’m your host. Jason Johnson, the Emancipator and abolitionist newspaper was born in the 19th century at a time when many Americans were challenging the assumption that the country would never end the institution of slavery. Now the Emancipator is being reborn as a publication that dares to imagine an America without racism. I know hard for me to imagine as well. The project is being launched by the Boston Globe and plans to begin publication in the New Year. Veteran journalist Amber Payne is co-editor in chief of the Emancipator, and she joins us now. Amber Payne Welcome to a word.

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S2: Hey, Jason. Thank you for having me.

S1: I’ll start by just asking this. So what is the Emancipator? What sort of the history of the original one? You know, this is kind of the newest version of a reboot, right? What is the Emancipator?

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S2: It’s a collaboration right between the Boston Globe’s opinion team and Boston University’s Center for Anti-Racist Research, which is run by Dr. Ibram Kendi, who many know and many read his work, especially in the last year, on how to be anti-racist. So the idea is we’re rebooting this idea of this abolitionist newspaper and taking the best of scholarship commentary, data journalism and stories from real lived experiences, from real people to imagine a way forward. So we’re taking a little bit of a page from the solutions journalism approach here and reframing this conversation on racial justice and equity. And if you look at the original Emancipator, you know, there were seven editions of the Emancipator that were produced by William Lloyd Garrison and that paper or the other the other abolitionist newspapers at the time, you know, they they were radical and they were using this format, the newspapers to get in people’s faces about like rejecting these compromises. There were some people who wanted to end slavery. They were like, Oh yeah, we could do that. Let’s let’s put a timeline down. Let’s let’s think about it. Let’s plan. And it was it was radical. And they these abolitionist newspaper editors like Garrison, they were actually persecuted for being so bold to imagine this world where slavery just could end like that.

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S1: What’s the difference between? Anti-Racist journalism that you’re going to do in the Emancipator and just reporting on race and racism because I think that’s a distinction that a lot of people don’t understand. If you if you simply talk about the injustices from some police department in Oklahoma, that ain’t the same thing as being anti-racist. How do you explain that to your readers?

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S2: What we are going to be doing is giving history and context behind something. OK, you want to use the racist police department looking at the history of where that comes from racist policing? I think it’s, you know, you have your straightforward news approach, breaking news approach. I worked in breaking news for 10 years and you’re really giving the facts. Here’s what happened. Here’s what he said. Here’s what she said. You know, closing soundbite closing message. And what we’re looking at is giving the facts, giving the context, letting people know if there’s a through line that they might be able to track through history to help them understand someone, someone’s attitude differently or better. So I think part of the anti-racist newsroom and anti-racist journalism approach, you know, we’re really defining this and figuring this out right now. But it is about going beyond just telling people what happened. And that’s why we do have the commentary. We’re calling it commentary instead of opinion, partly because sometimes that evokes especially to traditional news, folks, that it’s kind of like a rant that is not evidence based. So it’s evidence based opinion and explaining how policies are born, how they thrive and how they can be deconstructed if necessary. So I think it does speak to what Dr. Kendi, who is a co-founder of the Emancipator, has been a proponent of. The idea is that it’s not the people, it’s the policies. How do we deconstruct the policies? Let’s let’s take a step further, not just report on them, but talk about how do we break them down and build them back up in a better way?

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S1: Who’s the Emancipator for? Like, who is the audience that you guys are targeting, at least initially? With this new outlet,

S2: we’re looking at targeting anyone who was convicted after the George Floyd incident after his murder. Anyone who is mobilized wanted to learn more, wanted to do more, wanted to understand and take a deeper look at racial inequality and how that actually does impact not only black and brown people, but everyone. And so we’re really looking at this kind of twenty to forty five range of people who, yes, there are the black people who you know you want to you preach to the choir so that you can get that refrain and the choir needs to be armed to with the understandings on the history of inequality in our country. I learn something every day. I have learned so much and I’m like, OK, I’ve been covering marginalized communities. I’ve been really a student of this history for a long time, and I’m still learning things that are helping me to process the world around me, the conversations that I’ve had with friends and family and feel like, how do I equip myself to have those conversations instead of just push them to the side? In the more recent couple of years, I felt like I’m going to have a perspective. I’m going to take a side on this in some way, take a side for humanity. And if I see that someone’s not on the side of humanity, I’m going to say something now I can. We can do that with journalism. We’re not here to, like, cater to the white gaze in terms of really like, OK, we’re going to take your hand and we’re going to really break this down for you and pat you on the back. It’s like, Hey, we’re we’re this resource. You said you wanted to learn more and be, you know, a better human or, you know, it’s partly equipping people like, how do you speak up at your PTA meeting when everybody’s up there talking about critical race theory? What do you say or, you know, the neighbor next to you that you have been avoiding those conversations with? Maybe you want to keep avoiding it, but it’s like, how do you communicate that? And I see it’s a multiracial group of people we’re reaching because there are those people who, you know, are not the black and brown people who they do want to read, let read, learn and do something. And so I think while we can equip them with, I keep saying history and context, but I just feel like the context, like there is so much reporting that is devoid of context. And that is part of why we are where we are. Because for a while, like, you know, journals were kind of dancing around it. I remember in 2015 I was still overseeing WNBC Black at NBC Digital and just the idea of using the word racist in a headline racist incident. And how do we call Trump’s lies and do we call him racist? And, you know, an executive that I worked with? We were speaking to some UVA students of the media studies persuasion, and someone had a question and like, Well, why aren’t you calling out racism? Like more blatantly? And this executive actually said, Well, I’m I’m not in the business of calling people racists so that. Happened. I will not name this person. I just was taken aback at that and I’m like, Well, I am in the business of calling out racist incidents and explaining why they are racist. And that gets to the path of like, how did we get here? And where do we go?

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S1: So Amber, you know, one of the things about the Emancipator that is unique is you have a co-editor in chief ship or something like that. Tell us a little bit about who your your co-editor in chief is and why the Emancipator are structured in that way, because that’s really different for for most news outlets.

S2: Yeah, it’s really different. When I was thinking about the job and I knew it was a code editor in chief, Shipp, honestly. I was talking to some mentors who were very traditional newsroom executives and one of them even said that goes against everything I believe in and how a newsroom could could actually be run and be successful. But you see it in other sectors. You see it in tech, you know, co-founders, co-leaders, you see it in some other industries. And I think the reason this works, you know, it’s these two institutions and we’re coming together in a way of shared equity and shared sweat. And this it’s grounded. Our the leadership approach is grounded in shared responsibility for these ideas and the communities we serve, and it’s also an answer to white supremacy. Frankly, like you know, white supremacy and patriarchy suggests that there should be one person at the top that’s really dictating what happens and leveraging that. And this is like a new newsroom model. And so I’m so glad to work with Deborah Douglas, who is my co-editor in chief, and she’s on the business side of the partnership. And Deborah has had an incredible career as a print and digital journalists from working for the the Sun-Times and the editorial pages there. She wrote a book about the civil rights U.S. Civil Rights Trail recently. She was the deputy editor for MLK 50, which is an amazing project based in Memphis about policy and power. So it’s definitely something that people raise an eyebrow by, like, Well, how do you guys get things done? And it does end up being a lot of it’s collaborative, and I think that journalism should be collaborate more collaborative than it is.

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S1: We’re going to take a short break when we come back more on the Emancipator and the future of anti-racist journalism. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. This is Jason Johnson, host of a word Slate’s podcast about race and politics and everything else, I want to take a moment to welcome our new listeners. If you’ve discovered a word and like what you hear, please subscribe rate and review wherever you listen to podcasts and let us know what you think by writing us at a word at Slate.com. Thank you. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about the Emancipator, the Boston Globe’s new anti-racist journalism project, and our guest is co-editor in Chief Amber Payne. So I want to continue with this because I think this is really important. This idea that you know so much of America’s current racial interest has been sparked by, you know, what happened with George Floyd. And that will sort of after years and years of other instances of violence and everything else like that. The pushback sometimes is that that interest is fleeting, right? The Emancipator is also launching at this time where there’s this fear that this was a fad. How does this new outlet play a role in keeping the death of George Floyd from being just a moment to being part of a movement? Because that’s what I think a lot of people are nervous about right now?

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S2: Well, this is what we do every day. This is what we’re going to do every day. I think when you look at there has been an increase of coverage around racial equity and justice, and every outlet has their kind of racial justice newsletter. Now I have signed up for all of them. I enjoy them. And you have your writers, you have your Atlantic pieces. But that’s still not at the focus of what these news outlets are doing. And this is our focus like this is what we are. This is our mission. It’s like refreshing to me that we can commit to that because I’ve worked in legacy media companies for a long time where you just kind of wait for those moments like. All right. Black History Month is coming. We’re going to.

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S1: Here we go. We’re going to bring some. We got Obama in office. Yeah.

S2: And it is fleeting. And there’s a knee jerk reaction that I am tired of in journalism and I can’t help but have noticed, you know, in March 2020, as the pandemic was hitting, companies were making cuts and there were there were some jobs that were geared toward kind of racial equity editors and senior producers and that I took note of. And then those jobs went away because of the pandemic. And then by summer, after the uprisings, those jobs were back and every black journalist phone was was ringing off the hook. There’s the level of of news executives and newsrooms who are like, OK, now we get it. We do want to cover this. We need to cover it. Is it for all the right reasons like because they believe in the storytelling? Or is it because they know that they have to do this now? The feet have been held to the fire on having this coverage, being part of your mission and folded into what you do in the newsroom. If you don’t do that, you’re going to get called out by your employees or by other, you know, surrounding networks. So I think I fully believe that this is needed and that there’s a high interest. Of course, I do have that. I have that fear of like people are going to move on. But I think it’s just about keeping. It’s about keeping that drumbeat. It’s about keeping out there. And so I feel like we’re filling a void and filling a gap because you can go to different outlets and different writers that you like to read. But having one publication that is really focused on this, I think, is going to be hopefully helpful.

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S1: What’s the difference between launching something that discusses race when it was, say, NBC Black, where it’s like, OK, you’re you’re you’re your own thing as opposed to starting something from the Boston Globe? I mean, just given Boston’s history and its generic sort of reputation, like, what is it like launching something from a predominantly white institution versus something that’s coming from either a black space or a predominantly black institution? Is there a difference for you as a as a production person and co-editor?

S2: NBC b OK. We were a little section of NBC Digital telling stories before in about the black community, and we did get into a little bit of opinion. Thank you, Jason Johnson. And but we didn’t go too far down that road. We were kind of like, you know, for me, it was about covering covering stories that hadn’t been covered and having hard news to contribute to the conversation and smart political stories. I’ve worked at BET as well for a little bit, which was it’s still Viacom. You know, it’s still like the parent company, and it’s still kind of, you know, at the end of the day, kind of, you know, you’re beholden to, you’re beholden to metrics, you’re beholden to performance. I mean, at NBC, I was not beholden to like, Hey, how are your numbers? OK, we’re going to cancel this. We’re lucky to be in launching the Emancipator. There’s no paywall, although it’s, you know, it’s a partnership of the The Boston Globe. There’s that element of accessibility. We’re here in Boston and we’re rooted in Boston. This is where the the bricks of democracy were laid. And you know, there’s so much history of America. There’s a lot of black history here to not just from the abolitionist period. There’s the reputation that Boston has as being, you know, this quote, a racist city, which I’ve talked to a number of black Boston whites who have a lot to say about that and a lot take a lot of issue with that. And so I think in this in this, we’re still in that context of like the Center for Anti-Racist researches is one parent and the Boston Globe opinion is the other parent. So it’s it’s kind of propelling its propelling us in a different way than just being in a standard news outlet and news operation. It’s giving us a little more agency to speak out, call out and talk about these solutions. So I don’t know. I guess I just see it as it’s amazing to be able to create a newsroom from the ground up to truly do that and have the thought here at the beginning as to our staff and the diversity of the staff in terms of, you know, life experiences and multiracial staff. I mean, I want to make clear to like, you know, the Emancipator, we’re not calling ourselves like, we’re the next black publication. You know, I think we’re using, you know, black liberation as an entry point to a very intersectional conversation. Look at the different groups throughout history who have have pushed back and spoken out and had these movements that made America better and taking from that. So there’s going to be this intersectional conversation we’re going to have on the Emancipator. And I also really love Heather McGee’s book that some of us because it really, you know, the headline on that is like, Hey, racism impacts everyone. It impacts white people. White supremacy is bad for white people to like. Let me break this down for you. So this is different than anything I’ve ever done because we’re able to find an entry point to that conversation in a lot of different ways. So I think it’s going to be actually exciting and actually revolutionary that we can bring those threads together, bring these really smart, amazing people together. And you know, we’re even. It could be that it’s a scholar, but it could be that it is a person who’s worked for prison reform all their life and they’re not a household name. So I think it’s also about just bringing new people to the conversation who are not the bold type names. And it just comes down to our democracy. You know, journalism and democracy. And what? What is our place in the American project right now?

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S1: We’re going to take a short break when we come back more on the Emancipator and anti-racist media. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word Will Jason Johnson today we’re talking about the Emancipator, a forthcoming anti-racist news site from the Boston Globe with co-editor in Chief Amber Payne. So the Emancipator as a functional media place, it is going to be a non-profit. How are you guys going to go about getting your funding and how are you, I guess? How do you sort of draw that line between getting the funding to keep the lights on versus having the funding possible? I mean, you know, if if you get $500000 from Wal-Mart? Right? And then there there’s there’s an uprising of of workers. If you get a million dollars from Coca-Cola and then the story is about, you know, Coca-Cola oppressing workers in Brazil. How do you guys sort of anticipate that because that’s not a new problem. That’s something that a lot of of race and gender nonprofits face when they get the corporate grants versus what they got a report on.

S2: Yeah, I mean, at this point where we’re essentially like operating as a nonprofit newsroom, like kind of taking those principles, obviously, be you as a nonprofit, the globe is for profit. So we’re in this kind of hybrid status right now. And surely, as we build the Emancipator, we may make that decision to like, fully go and officially be if I buy one three. See, we’ve talked about this like we need money to tell stories at the same point if they’re coming to the table, like we want to put this money to funding this kind of journalism. It would be who of us to say yes to that, but it would also be of us to to not look away and shy away from if there is an issue or an incident that happens or it has happened to be really direct with condemning that. So I think it’s tricky. But we are operating, as you know, on philanthropic donations and we’re figuring out now how we will approach corporate advertisers. But you know, our initial thought is if there are people who want to give their corporations who want to give towards this work, let’s take that funding and do incredible journalism with it. That changes hearts and minds and provides a counter-narrative, and they may be doing it to fulfill a box check that’s that’s on their heart.

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S1: Right, right. Yeah. Yeah, we can’t be held accountable for for their for their sort of guilt. I want to close with this, so let’s jump ahead to 2024. What do you think will have changed about the way we’re talking about race? And obviously the Emancipator Will have played a role in that. But what do you think is going to be really different if we just jump ahead by two years?

S2: I think you’re going to find that some of the language and terminology will be different. I think people will be more well versed in terms of these conversations, and they will flow a little better. And are we going to have to be kind of defining and giving a 101 on racism and what it means to be racist at that time? I hope not. But that’s not too far away. What is it? It’s like 20. This is two years Jason.

S1: I know, I know. It’s only two years of revolutionary changes.

S2: I can hope to. I have high hopes on the diversity of newsrooms also impacting and influencing just knowing friends who they are, senior producers or executive producers and the TV space, and knowing the kinds of conversations and stories that they have fought for. You can really see the difference you can see. The executive producer of CBS This Morning is is a black woman, Shawna Thomas. I can I look at that show and I’m like, Yeah, I can see her her fingerprints on this just in the ways in the kinds of stories that are being told. So I think that the multiracial newsroom growth is going to change the kinds of stories that we’re doing. And also, I would also hope that we get to that point to where we’re not just at nightly news. You, you, you would get an assignment and you’d be OK, I need a character. I need an expert on. I need, you know, another expert and you’re mentally thinking like, OK. Diversity of stories. Let’s make sure that our stories are diverse and who we’re casting and who’s who’s speaking up. And I want that to be subconscious. I don’t want somebody to be like, Well, I have to do a story on breast cancer. OK, let’s find a black expert. Number one and check that off the box. I want them to just find the best person or find a voice that is a strong voice. And that doesn’t become this box check effort, which if that’s what it is to get a story to have that diversity in it, that’s what it is right now. But I think we need to get past that and know that there are. Black and brown experts and people who can fit into your stories, and it doesn’t have to be a story about race, so I want to get to that conversation.

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S1: Amber Payne is the co-editor in chief of the Emancipator at the Boston Globe. Thank you so much for a fantastic conversation. Thanks, Jason. And that’s a word for this week. The show’s email is a word at Slate.com. This episode was produced by Jasmine Ellis. Aisha Saluja is the managing producer of podcast at Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for Audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Podcasts. It’s late June. Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast Network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for word.